Julia and her family have lived in Conshohocken for about 7 ½ years. She previously lived in Colorado and Oregon, where her husband furthered his career in brewing and Julia earned a degree in acupuncture. They moved to Conshohocken to be closer to family and for her husband’s job as the director of brewing at the Conshohocken Brewing Company. They have a son (7) and two daughters (2.5 and 8 months). In addition to being a mother, Julia works part-time as an acupuncturist and Eastern Asian Herbalist.
Julia shares, “I love that Conshy is a small town. We can walk to and from school. There are wonderful little playgrounds and a cute main street with lots of fun restaurants and privately owned stores. I love that neighbors know each other’s names and we can watch our kids grow together. What I want for this community is to break bread together, to welcome one another and dance in the streets together. As hard as it’s been lately, there’s so much potential here, and that’s been encouraging.”
Julia’s vision for her community is fitting for the setting where we met for this interview—the Conshohocken community garden. Several times during the interview, she paused to wave to a neighbor passing by. Her vision for this community embodies friendliness, cooperation, togetherness, and a sense of safety.
Recalling experiences that have shaped her vision, Julia notes her time at Villanova University (she was first in her family to graduate college), where her love of service was solidified. Additionally, Julia is a first-generation South Korean immigrant who came to the U.S. before age two. She lived in Brigantine, NJ in one of the three Asian households surrounded by white families: “It’s where I learned what I am—different. It’s where I learned to be ashamed of my heritage, the shape of my eyes, my Korean name, the beautifully different culture that I come from. It’s where I learned to hate who I am and to desperately wish I could blend in rather than stand out.”
Julia remembers community block parties where she played into the night with other children. “It was as if no one noticed or cared I was different. We were all just having fun together. That’s what I wish for our community.” While some allow differences to divide, Julia believes they can strengthen a community and make us all greater.
Julia and her family have met some wonderful and supportive families in the area, but they’ve also been subject to multiple instances of verbal and written harassment. Her home sits on a visible intersection, and her porch displays signs, including one that says Black Lives Matter. She views them as a display of hope, justice and support to minorities. But the signs have drawn vitriolic yells, anonymous letters, and even defacement of her property. She says, “It’s hard and scary, but I wouldn’t do it any differently. The least I can do is to put out a sign to say, ‘This is important; these people matter.’”
The positive and negative response appear to be a microcosm of what many communities are experiencing: some embrace a future of equity and justice for all; others are silent or they push back on the idea that injustice even exists. Speaking about what maintains this dichotomy, Julia shares, “I think people choose to live in fear—fear of losing their privilege, of having to deal with change that might inconvenience them or make them feel uncomfortable. I think a lot of folks who are upset by Black Lives Matter signs think, ‘If you support that organization, it means you’re trying to take something away from me.’ Actually, these signs and statements have added to our lives by bringing people together, and that’s been amazing and eye opening. I wish people who think negatively about the BLM movement would see unity when they see our signs, rather than division.”
Many communities want unity over division but are unsure how to get there. Julia stresses the importance of personal connections—conversations about mutual experiences and hearing others’ stories helps break down protective barriers. She shares how the pandemic has highlighted the need for community: “We have to stay away from others, which has helped us realize how much we need and miss each other. When you have a community, you want to go that extra mile for people who may not be your family or close friends, but you’re invested in them. You care about them. You see them struggle and want to help. We need that. We’re not made to be alone.”
The hope, of course, is that person-to-person conversations will allow us to go from strangers to neighbors. I asked Julia what she wishes her neighbors knew about her. She responded, “It’s often overlooked that Asians are minorities, too, because of the ‘model minority myth.’ People forget that Asians experience struggles, including racism. I will never know the pain Black people go through all the time, especially now. But I can relate to it to some degree. There’s been an uptick in Asian racism. I’ve experienced it with my kids. It makes me feel like the country I’ve been in for 35+ years can’t be my home. And Korea is no longer my home. I feel like I don’t belong anywhere. It’s a very lonely feeling.”
She continues, “I’m now a mom with three half-Korean and half-White children. When I read that George Floyd screamed, “MAMA! MAMA!” I was struck to my core. In that moment and since, all I can feel is intense empathy for BIPOC, but especially Black people. I want my neighbors to know I’ve been wounded by racial words from Black people, and I think it has a lot to do with the model minority myth and Asians being “White adjacent.” However, even though I’ve felt hated at times by Black people simply for being Asian, here I stand fighting for their safety, their rights, their equality, THEIR LIVES because a person is a person no matter what they look like. I don’t do it because I feel guilt or because I’m trying to make amends for implicit biases I’ve had and still have. I fight for Black lives because as a POC and mom, I’ve felt some of their pain, and I NEVER want anyone to have to scream out for their mama like that again. We all should stand up. And I say let it start with me. As much as it hurts to have heard/experienced words/actions of hate from my fellow BIPOC, I will continue to fight because I KNOW Black lives matter. And no hurt perpetrated against me by anyone will EVER make it acceptable or right to harm someone based solely on the color of their skin. We should not dwell in fear but live in love.”